OXFAM BRIEFING PAPER 13 NOVEMBER 2015

Harvest season in Northern Vietnam. Credit: Cong Hung / Oxfam

A DIFFERENT ROUTE
Reimagining the idea of prosperity in Asia

Asia is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies.
Yet millions of people remain poor, while a handful get richer and richer.
Asia needs a development paradigm that leaves no one behind–not the
workers and farmers, who act as the driving force behind Asia’s growth–
and certainly not the women, who take on the lowest-paying jobs in the
region. This paradigm must also consider constraints, particularly the
earth’s finite natural resources, which future generations need to survive.
It must move away from carbon dependence and must anticipate and
plan for the impacts of climate change. These principles together inform
inclusive and sustainable development, which Asian governments can use
as a roadmap to transform their respective societies in an era of vanishing
resources and staggering inequalities.

www.oxfam.org
SUMMARY
Economic growth is creating jobs and generating wealth across Asia.
However, poverty amidst plenty continues to persist. Even with the
increasing development and bountiful resources, millions are being left
behind. Workers and farmers remain mired in poverty despite–and
perhaps because of–their role as the engine behind the very growth
that is marginalizing them. Amidst the prosperity created in economies
across the region, inequality continues to rise. Meanwhile, pollution, the
clearing of forests, and the over-use of natural resources is endangering
the environment that the economy depends upon.

There is hope. Inclusive and sustainable development (ISD) is possible, Inclusive and sustainable
if driven by an economy and society that prioritizes opportunities for development (ISD) is possible,
those left behind; one that addresses gender discrimination and social if driven by an economy
exclusion, and aims for a fairer economy, not just a larger one. This and society that prioritizes
requires bold but necessary steps to be taken by governments, to enable opportunities for those left
poor people to participate in and benefit from development, and to shape behind; one that addresses
the market economy, so that it behaves in an inclusive and sustainable gender discrimination and
manner. social exclusion, and aims
for a fairer economy, not just
This paper makes the case for inclusive and sustainable development a larger one.
and suggests key steps for governments in the region to promote
it. It builds on existing policies and initiatives and identifies concrete
recommendations that can help Asian countries address poverty and
inequality.

At the heart of the matter is whether key issues of human rights, gender
equality and the sustainable use of natural resources are championed
by governments. With increasing awareness of the state responsibility to
protect human rights, several states and institutions are exploring action
plans on business and human rights, which provide a ray of hope that
the worst kinds of abuses of human rights by business can be averted.
Meanwhile gender inequality remains a key barrier for economic and
social development across the region, as women are over-represented
in precarious and low-wage jobs and under-represented in economic
and political decision making. Rectifying such mistakes will both bring
greater prosperity and create fairer societies.

Powerlessness drives poverty. When men and women workers, farmers,
community members and citizens have little power over the commercial
and political decisions that shape their lives, ISD cannot happen. It is for
this reason that empowering people living in poverty, both in the political
and economic spheres, should be an explicit focus of policy makers.

Small business, particularly in agriculture, can be a key driver for building
inclusive economies. Small business generates jobs. Support for small
businesses, particularly by eradicating the “missing middle”–small
enterprises–particularly in agriculture that miss out on access to finance,

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will allow a more diverse and inclusive economy to form. As today’s small
businesses are tomorrow’s large businesses, supporting small enterprise
models that prioritize inclusion and are set up to spread benefits
most widely and fairly is key to shaping the future of the economy.
Supporting enterprise models, such as social enterprises, cooperatives,
and employee-owned businesses, will create a more inclusive and
fairer economy. Agriculture remains a major employer in the region,
providing between 30 and 60 percent of jobs and driving food security.
Efforts to support small-scale farmers, particularly by encouraging and
strengthening farmer-owned enterprises, are key enablers of ISD.

Health and education are the bedrocks of healthy, productive and
prosperous societies. For ISD to happen, governments must invest
heavily in these essential services, by implementing policies and
programs that support people living in poverty. To facilitate this process,
fair taxation is key to ensuring that corporations and the rich are paying
a greater share, which governments can then use to support health and
education services for everyone, especially the poor. Focusing on the
direct taxation of wealth, profits, and high incomes should be preferred to
consumption taxes.

Meanwhile, all efforts to promote inclusive growth are undermined if we
use up the earth’s resources and fail to curb climate change, making it
impossible for future generations to live happy and healthy lives. We all
depend on the natural resources, be it water, air, forests, soil, or energy,
and we must balance the use of these to sustain present economic
and other human activities to create jobs, food, fuel, and the like, with
the imperative to respect the limits of the earth’s resources. Addressing
climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, following a low-
carbon development path, and helping communities, especially the most
vulnerable, to adapt to its effects are essential to inclusive sustainable
development.

Inclusive and sustainable development entails living in the space
between a social floor of the essential requirements for people to live
a dignified life, and a planetary boundary of the earth’s sustainable
natural resources. As Asia comes to represent the lion’s share of global
economic activity, its ability to live within these boundaries will determine
the sustainability of our planet.

To summarize, the challenge for governments is to promote ISD through:

• Empowering women

Reforms that target women’s empowerment can transform
society and the economy. Governments can push for equal job
opportunities and implement equal living wages between men and
women; recognize and strengthen women’s right to own land; and
encourage women’s participation and leadership in local and national
organizations and government, among others.

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• Empowering communities and workers in markets and politics

Empowered people are in a better position to contribute to and
benefit from economic growth. Their participation in decision making
can help ensure that government policies are truly responsive to the
needs of the poor, and are effective in addressing the main drivers of
poverty. Their voice in corporate structures and processes can help
promote sustainable business operations and supply chains.

• Protecting and promoting human rights

Human rights are at the heart of the dignity of people. They comprise
the foundation of equality because they operate on the principle
that all people are equal and should enjoy the same basic rights,
regardless of gender, age, religion, race, and socio-economic status.
In the economic realm, the UN Guiding Principles on Business
and Human Rights is important to ensure that states protect and
businesses respect human rights, and that remedies are made
available to individuals and communities whose rights have been
violated.

• Promoting inclusive and sustainable agriculture

Experience has shown that economic growth models that
focus solely on increased production are not enough to lift rural
communities out of poverty. Inclusive and sustainable agricultural
models that put small-scale producers, both men and women,
at the center are the key to achieving inclusive and sustainable
development.

• Supporting small business, but shaping them, too

Supporting micro- and small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) can
help make economic growth and development more inclusive, as
it opens up opportunities for people to participate in the economy.
While regulating to shape the behaviour of existing large companies
is also key (ensuring they respect human rights and do not misuse
their market power), MSMEs offer a unique opportunity to shape the
future of the business world.

• Investing heavily in education and health

Investing in and increasing people’s access to essential education
and health services are crucial measures in promoting a healthy and
informed population that is able to participate in and contribute to
economic growth, and live with dignity.

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• Respecting planetary and social boundaries

All policies should ensure that the country is not using more
natural resources than what is sustainable or damaging the natural
environment, such that future generations are deprived of the same
opportunities to live inclusively and sustainably.

• Promoting fiscal justice

Fiscal justice is one of the best strategies to address inequality. It can
help redistribute wealth by taxing the rich and using tax revenues to
support programs that will empower the poor. It can also be used to
influence the way companies operate and behave.

Overall, Asia is up to the challenge of generating inclusive and
sustainable development. However, it requires clarity of vision and
determination from policy makers on these eight points. It is possible,
and the region’s people depend upon it.

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1 INTRODUCTION:
INEQUALITY IN ASIA
Ka Eva, a woman farmer leader from a small town in Rizal in the
Philippines stares helplessly at the huge pile of mangoes slowly rotting
under the blazing sun. The cost of transporting her mangoes to the
market is higher than what she expects to gain from selling them. Ten
years ago, she and other farmers in their barangay planted mango
trees with high hopes. They were encouraged by the promise of bigger
markets for one of the country’s top agricultural exports, as the country
signed free trade agreements with its neighbors in the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) and other countries. However, bad
roads, high transport costs, and the lack of storage and processing
facilities and technology prevent her and other farmers from benefitting
from their harvest. In 2010, world imports of mango were valued at
$1.5bn.1 However, this provides little comfort to Ka Eva, who cannot find
a way to connect to the local market, let alone to international buyers.

In another part of Asia, El Yin, a female worker in Myanmar, sighs as she
anticipates the long day ahead. Like most workers in the factory, she has
to work 3 to 10 hours overtime every week. El Yin earns a base salary of
$1.50 a day, or a total of $40 a month. With overtime pay and benefits,
she is able to bring home an average of $3.70 a day, or about $98 per
month. Half of her base pay is spent on accommodation, while the
rest of her salary is used to support her family. El Yin is not paid all her
overtime wages. She usually receives overtime pay for only two or three
hours. She is worried about the impact of the long hours on her health.
She is afraid to voice her concerns, because the company might dismiss
her. El Yin is one of 300,000 women in Myanmar’s rapidly growing
garments industry.2

Ka Eva and El Yin are only two of the multitudes of people left behind
by Asia’s much vaunted economic growth. Their stories reflect the sad
phenomenon of poverty amidst plenty, of people left on the sidelines
of Asia’s march to progress. Their stories cast a dark shadow on the
region’s impressive economic performance.

Between 1990 and 2010, Asia’s economic output increased at a
remarkable annual average of 7 percent per year, while the rest of
the world’s economy slowed down.3 In 2013, the developing region’s
economic output expanded by 7 percent.4 However, this impressive
economic performance is taking place alongside high levels of poverty
and rising inequality. Inequality in the region between the mid-1990s
to the late 2000s has risen by as much as 18 percent, much higher
compared with the 10 percent increase in the Gini coefficient of OECD
countries. Although the last two decades saw 650 million people in the
region lifted out of poverty, 1.6 billion people continue to live on less than
$2 a day.5

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Rising inequality means the gap between the rich and the poor is Rising inequality means the
growing wider and deeper. It means the benefits of economic growth are gap between the rich and the
concentrated towards those with wealth and enjoying higher incomes. poor is growing wider and
It indicates a fundamental unfairness in our economies and reveals that deeper. It means the benefits
the region’s growth is not pulling people out of poverty at the same rate of economic growth are
as the richest individuals accumulate wealth. concentrated towards those
with wealth and enjoying
The challenge of inclusion and sustainability higher incomes.

Most people agree that rising inequality is a problem. There is a huge
body of research and evidence showing why economic growth is not
enough to address inequality and poverty.6 Institutions that typically put
a premium on economic growth, such as the Asian Development Bank
(ADB), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have
acknowledged the importance of making growth inclusive. The United
Nations Development Program (UNDP) describes inclusive growth
as one where poor people are able to participate in and benefit from
economic progress.7

However, in Asia, addressing inequality and multi-generational poverty Horizontal inequalities–that is,
is not only about promoting economic inclusion. The growing divide inequalities between different
between the rich and the poor presents only one dimension of inequality groups of people based
in the region. Horizontal inequalities–that is, inequalities between on gender, race, ethnicity,
different groups of people based on gender, race, ethnicity, geographical geographical location or age–
location or age–sustain and are sustained by the economic inequality sustain and are sus-tained
characterizing the region. Marginalized groups face entrenched barriers by the economic inequality
to escaping poverty. Discrimination, limited economic opportunities, and characterizing the region.
exclusion from political processes work together to trap poor people
at the bottom of the economic ladder for generations. Asia’s growth is
unlikely to benefit the poorest while such systematic exclusion persists.

Additionally, it is impossible to provide long-lasting solutions to inequality
and poverty without maintaining the principle of sustainability. Economic
models that focus solely on growth without regard for the need to protect
the environment and natural resources are akin to killing the proverbial
goose that laid golden eggs. In Asia, we see grim reminders of the folly of
pursuing economic growth above all else: from murky and heavily polluted
rivers water to the thick and toxic air in rapidly developing cities and towns.

The devastating impact of climate change in the region, especially on
poor and vulnerable communities, underscores the need for Asia to
help find national, regional, as well as global solutions to this problem.
At the national level, this involves the pursuit by Asian governments
of a development path that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and
integrates climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction in national
planning processes.

Sustainability means current resources are nurtured and not
undermined, so that they can continue to provide food, water, healthcare,
energy, and livelihoods for present and future generations.

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Inclusive and sustainable development– Inclusive and sustainable
development (ISD) is one
living within the doughnut where everyone is able
to meet essential needs
Inclusive and sustainable development (ISD) is one where everyone is
and enjoy basic rights and
able to meet essential needs and enjoy basic rights and freedoms, while
freedoms, while respecting
respecting the limits of earth’s resources. Living ‘within the doughnut’
the limits of earth’s resources.
(see Figure 1), is described by Kate Raworth (2012) in an Oxfam
Discussion Paper. The outer circle represents planetary boundaries
(beyond which we run the risk of undermining the earth’s natural
resources, systems and processes), while the inner circle represents
the social boundaries–the essential requirements for people to live a
dignified life.8 The space between these two circles, or what is referred
to as the area within the doughnut, is where inclusive and sustainable
development happens.

Figure 1: Living within the Doughnut, K. Raworth (2012)

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For Ka Eva and the farmers in Rizal, inclusive and sustainable
development means being given the necessary government support
not only to improve production, but also to build farmers’ enterprises
that will enable them to add value to their products, connect to markets,
and increase their incomes. It entails using farming technologies
that promote the sustainable use of land and water, and do not pose
hazards to people’s health and to the environment. It involves being
consulted and having the opportunity to participate and take leadership
in the development of policies and programs that will affect their future.
Essentially, it means that small-scale farmers have greater power in
markets and politics, so they can control their destiny and get their fair
share of profits.

For El-Yin, inclusive and sustainable development is securing fair
wages and having greater security in employment. It means working in
a safe environment, where women’s contributions are acknowledged,
respected, and fairly valued equally with those of men. It necessitates
being part of a supply chain that produces safe food in a way that
supports communities, cares for the environment, and does not
exacerbate climate change.

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2 DRIVERS OF INCLUSIVE
AND SUSTAINABLE
DEVELOPMENT
Oxfam believes that inequality in Asia can be addressed by promoting
people’s empowerment, ensuring equitable access to land and other
productive resources, providing fair access to essential services like
health and education, and applying fair taxation and implementing
fair living wages. These measures also serve as the basis of inclusive
sustainable development.

Development is a complicated struggle, and the experience of nations Development is a complicated
varies as they progress along the path to development. However, struggle, and the experience
some key principles have emerged that pave the way for inclusive and of nations varies as they
sustainable development. If governments want to pursue ISD, they must progress along the path to
focus on these principles. development.

a. Rights
Human rights are at the heart of people’s dignity. They constitute the
foundation of equality because they operate on the principle that all
people should enjoy the same basic rights, regardless of gender, age,
religion, race, and socio-economic status.

Respecting, upholding, and protecting basic human rights and the
rights of communities, especially those that are marginalized and
displaced–be it as a result of large-scale business operations,
development projects, or conflict–are a prerequisite for tackling
poverty and attaining ISD. These rights include land and water
rights–which, for small-scale producers (who represent some of
the poorest people in the region), are intricately linked to the right
to food9, labor rights10, and the right of workers to be free from
discrimination.11 States have a duty to protect human rights and to
regulate the private sector, which itself must respect human rights
in its activities. The UN Guiding principles on Business and Human
Rights puts forward the ‘protect-respect- remedy’ framework, stating
clearly that business and government alike have clear obligations on
the human rights agenda.12

b. Gender equality
Women across Asia continue to face discrimination in the workplace,
market, community, politics, and even at home. In the Philippines and
Indonesia, the gender wage gap in 2008, in terms of hourly earnings,
stands at 17 percent and 14 percent, respectively.13 Although women
make up half of the agricultural labor force in Asia, only 62 percent of

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them are paid for their work in this sector.14 In comparison with their
male counterparts, women have unequal access to basic services
(including education and health) and productive assets (including land,
credit, agricultural extension, training, and inputs). Only 12 percent of
3 million landowners in the region are women, while the remaining 88
percent are men.15

Women remain under-represented in producers’ organizations,16
as well as in the broader economy and society.17 For instance, the
share of seats of held by women in parliaments, though increasing,
is still limited. In South Asia, women hold 18 percent of total seats
in parliament. This figure is slightly higher in Southeast Asia,
where women hold 20 percent of parliamentary seats.18 Addressing
discrimination means responding to the economic, social, and cultural
factors that work together to perpetuate gender inequality. It entails
giving women access to opportunities and productive resources.
It means enjoining governments, civil society groups, and other
institutions to take an active role in shaping cultural norms and values,
so that these do not discriminate against women, and respect, uphold
and protect women’s rights instead.

Debora is a Member of the Palmyrah society and she lives in Naruvlakulam village, in Sri Lanka,
with her husband and son. ‘I find the weaving helps me forget my difficulties, sorrows and grievances.
There are always several women here and we get together and chat about things that are worrying
us. That’s a big added benefit to this work.’ In 2013, Oxfam worked closely with communities in the
north and eastern provinces who were worst affected by the conflict. The plan was to help re-build
the communities capacity, re-establishing agricultural production and empowering women, enabling
them to improve their status and earning potential. Credit: Bes Young

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At the same time, addressing gender discrimination requires
addressing gender-biased policies that affect women’s roles and
status across different social and cultural backgrounds. For example,
family law affects the distribution of power and resources within the
household, and often discriminates against women by recognizing
only men as heads of households. This affects women’s ability to
access credit or participate in contract farming. Inheritance law
often restricts women’s ability to inherit land. Measures to address
the entrenched discrimination faced by women are critical to ISD.
Development cannot be inclusive if half of humanity is systematically
discriminated against.

c. Poor people holding power in markets
and politics
ISD recognises that powerlessness is at the heart of poverty. This Powerlessness is at the
means economic development is inclusive only when people in heart of poverty.
poverty obtain power to control their destiny.19 Marginalized workers
and communities are often excluded from policy making that affects
their welfare, and are unable to hold decision makers accountable.
They are vulnerable to exploitative practices in the market through
abusive employers and reckless investors. Workers on temporary
contracts20, migrant laborers21 with little voice or power, and
communities facing land rights violations22 are scenarios that are all
too common across Asian countries.

Public policy and market interventions that are made without
considering these dynamics can amplify poverty and other
interconnected forms of inequality, leading to social structures and
practices that favor men over women, employers over workers, and
corporate investors over communities.23 Reversing this powerlessness
means strengthening the voice and participation of workers and
communities, particular women, in policy making and inclusive
markets, while stopping abuses of power by the powerful. It also
means ensuring that people have equal access to educational
opportunities and health services that will give them greater power and
leverage in the economy, as well as in politics. It means supporting
and encouraging women, farmers, workers, peoples and communities
to unite, organize themselves, and work together in order to build their
power to shape policies and programs that affect them.24

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d. Promoting inclusive agricultural markets
and addressing the ‘missing middle’

In Bangladesh, a farmer on the hour-long walk from his village on Gabgachi char (river island) to the
boat which will take him to the nearest mainland market at Fulchari. In 2013, Oxfam supported chilli
farmers here, so they could earn a better living, feed their families, and save money to prepare for
floods which hit their community every year. By pooling their resources they could save on transport
and labour costs, and marketing fees. Credit: Rachel Corner/Oxfam

Agriculture is the biggest employer across Asia and continues to
provide a source of livelihood and food security to millions across the
region. As of 2010, agriculture provided employment to more than
60 percent of the labor force in Cambodia, close to 50 percent of the
labor force in Vietnam, 41 percent of the labor force in Thailand, 38
percent of the labor force in Indonesia, and 34 percent of the labor
force in the Philippines.25 Making agricultural markets work for society
is critical. For small-scale producers, powerlessness often means they
bear the greatest risks in market relationships, despite being the least
equipped with the means to shoulder them.

Small-scale farmers26 who are thriving are key to ensuring that
agricultural markets are inclusive, and that whole communities are
lifted out of poverty.27 This requires helping traditional markets to
evolve and compete, helping small-scale producers to access and
benefit from formal markets, and ensuring that they get a fair share
of value from agricultural markets.28 Enterprises owned and governed
by small-scale producers can be an instrument to attain this by
providing services to owners and members, linking them to markets,
and ensuring that they and their communities enjoy the benefits of
agricultural trade.

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Promoting inclusive and sustainable agricultural development entails Many producers’ associations
ensuring that farmers and their enterprises have access to productive and other forms of small
resources, such as land, water, financial services, and other inputs that enterprises in agriculture,
will give them greater power in markets.29 Many producers’ associations which are critical for
and other forms of small enterprises in agriculture, which are critical connecting farmers to
for connecting farmers to markets, are not able to access formal markets, are not able to
financial services.This problem is particularly acute in the sector where access formal financial
the ‘missing middle’ has developed. The unmet needs for finance of services.
producer associations and other forms of MSMEs in agriculture, for
transactions between £5,000 and £500,000, constitute this ‘missing
middle’ in finance.30 This, combined with the financing gap that is also
present in the rural economy more broadly, exacerbates the challenges
relating to access to finance among rural MSMEs.

e. Fairer and better companies through
shaping MSMEs
Micro-, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) comprise a category MSMEs are the engine for
that is critical to economic development.31 They are the engine for entrepreneurship and the
entrepreneurship and the backbone of economies. MSMEs themselves backbone of economies.
can be diverse, differing in structure, values, and impacts on people
and the planet. Through carefully selected policies, governments can
help shape an MSME sector that contributes positively to society and
respects the environment. This can be the key to ISD. While many
MSMEs remain small, tomorrow’s corporate giants are today’s MSMEs.
A new breed of enterprises, known as social enterprises, are emerging
throughout Asia, and are known for their ability to tackle social issues
while generating livelihoods and creating wealth in communities that
are too often left behind. Globally and in the region, there are several
initiatives that are looking to support such enterprises, including
the Poverty Reduction Through Social Entrepreneurship Act in the
Philippines.32 The structures and cultures of business emerging through
the MSME sector will shape the future of our global economy. The
corporate models that are prominent today have themselves evolved out
of government policies and regulations. A new generation of corporate
models, which would ideally be more supportive of ISD, can be promoted
through targeted MSME policies.

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Box 1: Seeds of hope in Nepal

There are many ways to address inequality and promote inclusive
and sustainable development in Asia. Oxfam’s work in Nepal shows
how helping women farmers gain access to productive resources,
strengthen enterprises, and establish links with buyers can help
improve their quality of life, and give them greater power in their
homes and in the market.

Kalpana is one of the 1,200 women members of the Pabitra
cooperative in Surkheat, Nepal. Members of this enterprise produce
and sell seeds to the market. Pabitra partnered with Oxfam to
improve seed production and marketing. Farmers were given training
on seed production and leadership development. As part of the
program with Oxfam, they linked up with the Kumari Bank, which
designed a credit program that complemented their production and
marketing schedule, as well as cash flow.

Cooperative members also entered into a mentorship agreement
with the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and
Industry. Members were given training on business planning,
financial management, market pricing, and policy-related issues.
Equally important was the ability of the cooperative to establish
links with buyers, who committed to purchase their products at a
guaranteed price. Because of these interventions, the enterprise was
able to increase its production from a few hundred kilos to 36 tons
per season. Pabitra members like Kalpana were able to expand their
vegetable seed output from 2 to 5 kilograms to 100 kilograms.

Kalpana reflects on the changes in her life: ‘From this business, I am
able to run my household and pay for my children’s food, education,
and other expenses. In the same way that an educated person gains
confidence to get jobs and help build their country, I have confidence
that I will be able to do the same in agriculture. This is my dream.’

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f. Access to essential services Investments in essential
services, particularly
People who are healthy are generally more productive and in a better education and health, offer
position to generate income. In the same way, people who have access huge potential to promote
to demand-responsive education and skills training have greater leverage inclusion because they help
in labor markets. Investments in essential services, particularly education to increase poor people’s
and health, offer huge potential to promote inclusion because they help to capacity to participate in,
increase poor people’s capacity to participate in, contribute to, and benefit contribute to, and benefit
from economic progress. Unfortunately, Asia still has a long way to go to from economic progress.
improve health and education services. In 2006, Southeast Asia charted
the lowest spending on health services as a percentage of GDP at 3
percent–less than half of the global average of 9 percent.33 Government
spending on education is also fairly limited. In Cambodia, Laos PDR,
Myanmar, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, public
expenditure as a percentage of GDP was less than 3 percent during
the period 2000 to 2012,34 compared with the OECD average of 5
percent of the GDP in 2011.35 The average duration of schooling in
South and Southeast Asia is approximately 6 years, compared with the
world and OECD average of 9 years and 11 years, respectively.36 In
Asia, differences in human capital and skill endowment –factors largely
influenced by people’s access to education–account for 20 percent to 40
percent of total inequality.37 Addressing inequality and promoting inclusive
and sustainable development requires sufficient public investment and
effective delivery of education and health programs, especially for people
living in poverty. It is essential that these services are not left only to the
private sector, and are made accessible to the poor.

g. Environmental sustainability

Forest cleared by a palm oil company
in Indonesia. Biofuels are seen as
a way to combat climate change
and provide an alternative source
of fuel in the face of decreasing
global oil reserves. However, oil
palm plantations used for production
of biodiesel are a major driver
of deforestation in tropical Asia.
Deforestation increases Indonesia’s
vulnerability to the impact of sea
level rises, prolonged drought and
heavy rainfall leading to floods and
tidal surges. Credit: Tom Greenwood/
Oxfam GB

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The blind pursuit of economic growth–manifested in the indiscriminate
establishment of huge factories that pump waste into the air and water,
the intensive use of chemicals to increase agricultural output, or the
reckless clearing of forests to supply the needs of rapidly expanding
cities–is undermining the long-term sustainability of the environment, the
very resource base that supports people’s basic needs for food, air, water,
energy and healthcare, and upon which future growth and development
depend. Asia’s forest cover is shrinking by 1 percent per year, and 70
percent to 90 percent of its original wildlife habitats have been lost.38
Environmental degradation is undermining growth prospects in many
countries in the region, with the cost of environmental degradation
estimated at 4 percent to 8 percent of the GDP of developing countries.39

A more worrisome trend lies in the way environmental pollution is
endangering the health and safety of people across Asia. Over the Over the last two decades,
last two decades, the region has earned the name ‘Factory Asia’, for the region has earned the
supplying the world with huge volumes of cheap manufactured goods. name ‘Factory Asia’, for
This has taken a huge toll on the quality of life of people in the region. supplying the world with
Promoting inclusive and sustainable development involves developing huge volumes of cheap
and implementing policies and programs that protect and take care of manufactured goods. This
the environment and the region’s natural resources. Climate change is has taken a huge toll on the
one the biggest development challenges facing Asia today. Its impacts quality of life of people in
are undermining food security, poverty reduction and sustainable the region.
development. It is forecast to put around 49 million more people in the
Asia Pacific region at risk of hunger by 2020.40 The recent IPCC report
notes that climate change is impacting on “human health, security,
livelihoods and poverty” in countries in Asia.41 In order to address this
urgent global challenge, governments in the region must contribute to
international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while taking
initiatives to build people’s climate resilience.

h. Fiscal justice
Fiscal policies are crucial in promoting inclusive and sustainable
development. The way governments use taxes and spend revenues
can help address poverty. Regressive taxes, such as those applied
on services and goods normally consumed by the poor, will increase
disparities and exacerbate inequality; while progressive taxes, which
directly target wealthy individuals and large corporations, can help
governments raise the necessary revenue to finance essential public
services, infrastructure, and social protection programs. Indirect taxes, Indirect taxes, or taxes applied
or taxes applied on goods and services, tend to be regressive and put a on goods and services, tend
disproportionate tax burden on poor and middle-income groups. Heavy to be regressive and put a
reliance on sales (VAT in Asia) and excise taxes are characteristics of disproportionate tax burden
the most regressive state tax systems.42 In Asia, according to ADB,43 on poor and middle-income
indirect taxes dominate direct taxes by 10 percent. The corporate tax groups.
rate in the ASEAN region has been lowered in last 15 years.44 The trade-
off of the lowered corporate tax rate is government’s reliance on indirect
taxation, which again leads to disproportionate tax burdens for poor and
middle-income groups.

16
How governments spend their revenue can determine whether people
escape poverty. Public expenditure that does not prioritize pro-poor
programmes will undermine poverty reduction. Evidence from around
the world indicates that government spending has significant impacts
on income distribution, depending on45 the composition of expenditure,
peoples’ participation, the nature of government programmes, and the
effectiveness of delivery.

Government policies that rely heavily on consumption taxes enable
tax avoidance by rich individuals and corporations, foster low public
expenditures on essential services, and neglect social protection and critical
infrastructure. Such trends will not lead to ISD and fairer societies in Asia.

Fiscal justice is not only about income redistribution. It is also about
using taxes to influence the way people and companies behave, so
that they are able to contribute to the common good. For instance,
applying progressive environmental tax, as well as taxes on greenhouse
gas emissions and carbon pricing schemes, can help to promote the
judicious use of land and water resources and help to address climate
change, while generating resources to support programs for the poor.

Box 2: Tax holidays

Despite various studies indicating that tax holidays do not result to
a substantial increase in foreign direct investment, countries in Asia
continue to engage in an all-out battle to offer the best tax incentives
to corporations. Taxes in 6 member countries of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations have gone down over the period 2006 to
2015, in keeping with ASEAN’s goal of attracting more investors
into the region.46 Asia, with its 44 countries, already has the lowest
average top marginal corporate tax in the world at 21 percent; lower
than the world average of 23 percent.47

Lower tax revenues mean less funds to meet the development needs
of Asia’s population, especially the 700 million who presently live on
less than $2 a day. It means less money for government to spend
on health and education and to help build communities’ climate
resilience. It means not having enough funds to provide farmers,
producers and small and medium enterprises with essential support
services to improve production and increase incomes. According
to Prakarsa Indonesia, if the estimated revenue loss of 0.5 percent
in developing countries was used in Indonesia, it would translate to
foregone revenues equivalent to more than IDR 50 trillion ($350m),
enough to provide one million subsidized houses for the poor.48

However, corporate tax cuts are only one way through which big
companies are able to evade tax responsibilities. In Bangladesh,
weak transfer pricing monitoring mechanisms allowed multinational
companies to pay taxes equivalent to $310m a year.49 This money
could have been enough to provide one-fifth of the budget for
primary education in the country.

17
3 RECOMMENDATIONS
Inclusive and sustainable development in Asia is both necessary and
possible. The challenge for governments is to promote it through the
following:

1. Empower women
Governments can play a key role in empowering women and girls.
From the political to the economic system, from the healthcare to the
education sector, and across society, reforms that target women’s
empowerment can transform society and the economy. These reforms
begin with recognizing women’s roles in economic development, be it as
farmers, fishers, workers, or entrepreneurs.

Five key policies, if implemented can go a long way in promoting gender
equality across the region:

• Create equal job opportunities and implement equal living wages
between men and women;
• Recognize and strengthen women’s right to own land;
• Develop credit programs that are designed specifically for women
and target them as beneficiaries;
• Allocate a budget in the spending programs of local and national
governments, that specifically targets women’s empowerment; and
• Encourage women’s participation and leadership in local and
national organizations and government.

2. Empower communities and workers in
markets and politics
Empowered people are in a better position to contribute to and benefit
from economic growth. Their participation in decision making can
help to ensure that government policies are truly responsive to the
needs of the poor, and are effective in addressing the main drivers and
enablers of poverty. Their voice in corporate structures and processes
can help promote sustainable business operations and supply
chains. Empowering poor people is an important part of inclusive and
sustainable development. The implementation of the following measures
can help increase poor peoples’ power in markets and politics:

• Create mechanisms through which people’s organizations and
civil society groups can participate in government decision-making
processes;
• Strengthen policies that uphold workers’ freedom of association and
increase their bargaining power within companies and industries;
• Set and enforce a fair living wage as the minimum wage in order to
enable workers to live with dignity; and

18
• Adopt and implement policies that uphold communities’ right to
decide over projects and investments that will affect them.

3. Protect and promote human rights
Human rights are at the heart of dignity. These are the foundation of
equality, because they operate based on the principle that all people
are equal and should enjoy the same basic rights, regardless of gender,
age, religion, race, and socio-economic status. In the economic realm,
the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is important
to ensure that states protect and businesses respect human rights,
and that remedies are made available to individuals and communities
whose rights have been violated.50 The application of these principles
is especially important in Asia, where the rapid influx of private sector
investments is changing rural and urban landscapes, and affecting entire
communities. Governments can help safeguards the human rights of
their constituents through these interventions:

• Develop and implement national and regional action plans to
operationalize the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human
Rights, in close consultation with peoples’ organizations, civil society,
businesses, and other stakeholders; and
• Strengthen regional coordination in providing redress to communities
negatively affected by the operations of private sector investments,
especially those involving cross country investments.

4. Inclusive and sustainable agricultural markets
Millions of poor people in Asia depend on agriculture for their food
and livelihood. Interventions in the sector offer the most potential in
addressing poverty, food insecurity and inequality. Increasingly, the
farmers producing our food are capturing less and less of the revenues
in the sector, but increasingly carrying and absorbing the risks. Without
addressing fairness and power issues in agriculture, ISD will not be
possible. Experience has shown that economic growth models that focus
solely on increased production are not enough to lift rural communities
out of poverty. Inclusive and sustainable agricultural models that put
small-scale producers, both men and women, at the center is the
key to achieving ISD.51 Governments, working closely with peoples’
organizations, civil society groups, the private sector, and other relevant
institutions, can take the lead in adopting and implementing the following
policies to promote inclusive and sustainable agriculture:

• Provide policy and program support for the development farmers’
enterprises, cooperatives, and other similar institutions, allowing
farmers to add value and capture greater revenues from supply
chains;
• Adopt and implement policies that require companies to build
sustainable value chains such as by mandating companies to pay

19
for insurance as a way of mitigating risks due to climate change,
adopt fair living wages, provide clear and transparent employment
contracts for farm workers, adhere to strict environmental standards,
and provide support and pay prices that allow for sustainable
agricultural production (including living incomes for farmers and
labourers), among others; and
• Strengthen land rights, especially those of women farmers, and
improve small-scale producers’ access to other productive resources
and services, such as credit, technology, links to markets, and the
like.

5. Support MSMEs, but shape them too
Supporting micro- and small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) can help
make economic growth and development more inclusive, as it opens up
opportunities for people to participate in the economy. While regulating
to shape the behaviour of existing large companies is also key (ensuring
they respect human rights and do not misuse their market power),
MSMEs offer a unique opportunity to shape the future of the business
world. However, supporting MSMEs is not enough, and policy makers
must actively support the forms of MSMEs that will be most conducive
to ISD. These could include cooperatives, employee ownership, social
enterprises, Benefit Corporations, and other corporate forms that
promote better social and environmental outcomes.

Below are some of the interventions that governments can adopt and
implement to support enterprises:

• Increase the access of MSMEs to finance52 by encouraging and
undertaking initiatives to provide them with seed and venture capital,
fair and inclusive lending terms and effective credit guarantee
schemes;
• Help MSMEs access technology for value addition and facilitate
their links to markets, especially during the early stages of their
operations;
• Work with MSMEs in developing competition policies aimed at
ensuring that markets are not dominated by big players; and
• Protect (through regulation) and promote (through access to
government services) MSMEs that prioritize social outcomes
alongside commercial ones, including social enterprises

6. Invest heavily in education and health and
ensure that these are accessible to all,
especially poor people
Studies indicate that government expenditures on health and education
not only help productivity and economic development, but also help
reduce income inequality in Asia and the rest of the world.53 Investing in
and increasing people’s access to these essential services are crucial

20
steps to promoting a healthy and educated population, able to participate
in and contribute to economic growth, and live with dignity.

By increasing the budget allocation for health and education,
governments across the region can support the implementation of the
following policies:

On education:

• Build more classrooms and schools, especially in remote rural areas,
and create the necessary infrastructure to make these accessible to
students;
• Increase teachers’ salaries and improve teacher education;
• Develop economic and social incentive programs to increase school
attendance; and
• Strengthen and broaden access to vocational and skills training
programs.

On health:

• Increase people’s access to medicine, vaccines, and medical
services;
• Promote universal access to free healthcare; and
• Improve women’s access to reproductive healthcare

7. Live within planetary boundaries
while ensuring that people’s essential
requirements to live with dignity are met
All policies should ensure that the country is not using more natural
resources than is sustainable, or damaging the natural environment,
such that future generations would be deprived of the same opportunities
to live inclusively and sustainably.54 Government can adopt the following
measures to ensure that development interventions, whether by
business, government agencies, and other institutions, do not undermine
the environment:

• Develop and enforce stricter environmental standards on waste
treatment, carbon emissions, deforestation and land and land use
conversions, while working in close consultation and coordination
with communities;
• Explore market-based mechanisms to ensure that companies are
paying the full environmental and inter-generational cost of their
operations; and
• Help address climate change by adopting policies that promote
renewable energy, reduce and, with the support of the international
community, eventually phase out greenhouse gas emissions as part
of a comprehensive low carbon development plan.

21
8. Promote fiscal justice
Fiscal justice is one of the best strategies to address inequality. It can
help redistribute wealth by taxing the rich and using tax revenues to
support programs that will empower the poor. It can also be used to
influence the way companies operate and behave. Unfortunately, current
tax structures in many countries put much of the tax burden on the poor.
Governments can help promote fiscal justice by adopting a pro-poor
fiscal reform agenda that incorporates the following measures:

• Increase the share of direct taxes vis-a-vis indirect taxes, so that the
poor do not end up shouldering the cost of public spending;
• Eradicate loopholes that allow big corporations to unfairly reduce
their tax burden–a process that will require policies that abolish tax
breaks and incentives for investors, and discourage transfer pricing,
among others;
• Develop a uniform corporate tax policy with harmonized tax rates on
global and regional capital–a measure that will reduce incentives for
corporations to move from countries with higher tax rates to those
with lower ones–and work with other governments to reform the
global tax system to help ensure that corporations pay their dues.
• Use tax revenues to support programs that expand poor people’s
access to essential services, such as healthcare and education, and
to productive resources, such as land and water rights, production
capital, technology, and other support services.
• Apply environmental taxes to promote the judicious use of natural
resources, implement carbon pricing schemes to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions, and use the proceeds from these taxes and schemes
to support programs that will help build economic and climate
resilience.

22
NOTES
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website: https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/bn-power-rights-inclusive-
markets-agriculture-050613-en_1.pdf
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Relieving the capital constraint on smallhold groups and other agricultural SMEs. Retrieved
from Oxfam International website: http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/the-
missing-middle-in-agricultural-finance-relieving-the-capital-constraint-on-112348
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Retrieved from Oxfam International website: https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/
files/dp-a-safe-and-just-space-for-humanity-130212-en.pdf

25
© Oxfam International November 2015

This paper was written by Erinch Sahan and Maria Dolores Bernabe.
Oxfam acknowledges the assistance of Maya Maboloc, Ziaul Hoque Mukta,
Lilian Mercado, Sita Sumrit, Vu Thi Quynh Hoa, Ghulam Mustafa Talpur,
Anna Coryndon and Kalayaan Pulido-Constantino in its production. It is part of
a series of papers written to inform public debate on development and
humanitarian policy issues.

For further information on the issues raised in this paper, please e-mail
advocacy@oxfaminternational.org.

This publication is copyrighted, but the text may be used free of charge for the
purposes of advocacy, campaigning, education, and research, provided that the
source is acknowledged in full. The copyright holder requests that all such use be
registered with them for impact assessment purposes. For copying in any other
circumstances, or for re-use in other publications, or for translation or adaptation,
permission must be secured, and a fee may be charged. E-mail
policyandpractice@oxfam.org.uk.

The information in this publication is correct at the time of going to press.

Published by Oxfam GB for Oxfam International under
ISBN 978-1-78077-981-2 in November 2015.
Oxfam GB, Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, Cowley, Oxford, OX4 2JY, UK.

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